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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, June 10, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

Anti-smoking campaign deserving of full funding

On the web

Tobacco Control Program Funding in Indiana: www.rmff.org

The percentage of Indiana adults who smoke fell almost 23 percent between 2001 and 2010. But the encouraging downward trend soon stalled. While the state's rank for percentage of adult smokers has fallen from second highest in the nation to 10th highest, the percentage of adults who smoke remains at a stubborn 21.1 percent – down just one-tenth of a percentage point since 2010.

What happened to slow the progress? One clue is in a new study that concludes Indiana, which abolished its independent tobacco prevention and cessation agency in 2011 and has cut spending on those initiatives by nearly 60 percent since 2009, is “woefullyunderfunding tobacco control efforts.”

“Even more troubling is that the state of Indiana collected plenty of revenue from the sale of tobacco products and from the tobacco industry as part of the Master Settlement Agreement to adequately fund its tobacco control plan,” according to the report by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation in Indianapolis. “Indiana received $568 million in tobacco tax revenues and money from (Master Settlement Agreement) payments in (fiscal year 2016) and only spent a very small fraction of this on tobacco control.”

Troubling and disappointing – Indiana was once a leader in targeting its share of the 1998 tobacco settlement for anti-smoking efforts. In 2000, in fact, the state earmarked more than the minimum amount recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

But state leaders soon realized the money was available for other priorities, with both Democrats and Republicans supporting budgets that shifted cigarette tax revenue and tobacco settlement dollars to other uses. By the time Gov. Mitch Daniels proposed abolishing the tobacco-prevention board in 2010, Indiana had fallen to 29th in the nation for spending on smoking cessation and prevention.

The Indiana State Department of Health now administers anti-smoking programs through grants to county-level coalitions, including Tobacco Free Allen County, which received $350,000 to cover operations over two years. Executive Director Nancy Cripe said additional funding would go far in driving down smoking rates. A continuing public awareness campaign to counter the tobacco industry's message would be helpful, she said, as would more funding for anti-smoking education.

“We could fund coalitions in every county instead of just 42,” Cripe said, “Some counties that don't have coalitions have really high tobacco rates, which is just sad. Let's fund all 92 counties.”

DeKalb County is one of those without a local anti-tobacco coalition. Its adult smoking rate is 28 percent, compared with a national rate of 17.5 percent.

Almost 21 percent of pregnant women in DeKalb County smoke, compared with 14.3 percent statewide, according to the state health department figures.

The Fairbanks report recommends Indiana restore tobacco-control spending to CDC-recommended levels to realize significant health care savings – $373 million annually. Spending at that level is projected to result in 58 fewer low-birthweight babies, with first-year hospital cost savings of $1.9 million.

The shift in spending priorities has cost Hoosiers dearly. With the next biennial budget, let's get our spending priorities straight.